|Junior Seau's suicide has put and even brighter light on football's concussion problem. (Getty Images)|
Bill Curry has wonderful memories of his 10 years in the NFL playing for Vince Lombardi and Don Shula.
But one Saturday night in Green Bay still remains very, very fuzzy.
"I had two or three concussions in 10 years, but this one was pretty severe," said Curry, who played from 1965-74. "It was so bad that [my wife] Carolyn had to come into the locker room and get me."
Come Monday, Curry returned to practice. No one ever examined him.
"I'm not complaining and I'm not criticizing the NFL," said Curry, the former head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky who now heads the fledgling program at Georgia State. "We were grown men. Nobody made us do it. That's just the way things were done back then."
|Danger in football|
Curry, still very fit, sharp and energetic at 69, knows he's one of the lucky ones.
"I'm one of the luckiest guys on the face of the Earth because a lot of my buddies are incoherent or no longer living," he said.
So when former NFL players like Junior Seau and Ray Easterling appear to take their own lives because of apparent long-term effects of concussions, Curry feels it on a very personal level.
Curry has been involved in the question of concussions and their long-term effects for decades. When he became active in the NFL Players Association, Curry encouraged former players to contribute to a voluntary research project. Those players filled out questionnaires about medical issues they had experienced after their playing days. Very few changes came from the project.
"The research got criticized because it was anecdotal and not based on scientific evidence like CAT scans," Curry said. "But I thought it was important because for the first time we had players talking about this issue and admitting what was happening to them."
He views the apparent suicides of Seau and Easterling as yet another call to action for coaches and administrators -- from junior high football to the pros.
"As coaches we have to be personally engaged in teaching the right techniques when it comes to tackling," said Curry. "We have to teach it every day. Players have to be told there can be no head-to-head contact. They have to be taught that if they position their head in the wrong way, there can be consequences to them and to others. If a player leads with his head in one of my practices, my coaches know to take that player off the field and pitch a fit at him. And if he can't -- or won't -- get it right, he doesn't play. If you don't teach this all day, every day, then you are missing the point."
Curry said he and his staff spend a lot of time studying the helmets that Georgia State will ultimately purchase for its players.
"We go to seminars and talk to the right people so that we can buy what we think is the safest helmet on the market," Curry said. "There is technology that measures the G-force on hits. It's about education and reinforcement, and ultimately the coaches are responsible. We sit in the living rooms and talk to parents and promise to do everything in our power to keep their sons safe. We have to make good on that promise."
When Curry played in the '60s and '70s, the NFL was a totally different game. He understands that.
"The biggest difference is I played center at 240 [pounds]," said Curry. "And I didn't generate a whole lot of speed off the ball. Today's center might be 340 and he creates a lot of G's after the snap."
Today's game is faster, but in many ways the older game was a tougher game in which just about anything went.
"Let's just say that when we played, there was a lot less supervision of big hits," Curry said. "There were rough guys and cheap-shot artists, and everybody knew who they were. But back then there was an unwritten rule that something bad was going to happen to that guy. The guys in the league more or less policed it."
Curry is anything but naïve when it comes to the physical nature of football. But he said he was still shocked when the details of the New Orleans Saints "Bountygate" finally came to light.
"After 10 years as a player in the NFL, and then being a scout and a coach, I could not believe it," Curry said. "But now you can't deny it. It is just unthinkable that you could consciously try to hurt the husbands and sons and children of other people. And you weren't just trying to hurt them -- you were trying to end their careers. It just made me sick. There is no place for that in the game."
Curry has heard the discussions that maybe football, both college and pro, should be scaled back or even eliminated. Perhaps the sport has become too brutal for our culture, some have argued, and needs to be eliminated. The risk for long-term brain damage is just too great.
Curry, however, believes those to whom the game is entrusted -- coaches, commissioners, and other administrators -- need to be strong and address the problems.
"Football is the ultimate team game and has given people like me an incredible life," Curry said. "There is a lot of good that comes from football. It can change people's lives for the better. But we can be better teachers of the game and the way it's supposed to be played. Those of us who have been entrusted with leadership positions have to do our jobs. We have to lead."